on 6 July 2013
At the risk of sounding pretentious this collection reminds me of the time a politician ( I think it was David Cameron) turned to Tony Blair at the House of Commons despatch box and said " you were the future once". This could apply to the stories within this set. The title of the collection was actually the title of the first story. When this first ran in 2000AD this was the new Rogue Trooper and titled as such. The old stories and characters (including the biochips) were consigned to history and a new, grittier take on future war was produced. Dave Gibbons was one of the creators of the original Rogue and so it was particularly interesting to see his fresh approach. Will Simpson's artwork captures the chaos and energy of war without succumbing to the murkiness of much early nineties comic book art. This was a well told story which successfully reincarnated a much loved character who had lost his way in recent years. Sadly the good work was quickly undone when other writers and artists were brought on board and convoluted attempts were made to tie the continuity of the two rogue troopers together. It all fizzled out in the mid-nineties and Rogue mark 2 aka Friday became a byword for failure and even the butt of jokes in a relaunch of the original Rogue. This is unfair as the first story is excellent and if Gibbons and Simpson had been persuaded to continue their work on the character it might still be going strong.
As things stand this collection asks what might have been? It is packaged to imply that this was an alternate take similar to DC comics elseworlds rather than a relaunch and yet includes a couple of extra short stories from the continuation of Friday's adventures. These are the best of a fairly dreary lot but don't detract from the enjoyment of the main story and one has some very nice Steve Dillon art. A fascinating glimpse at what was the future once.
Conceived in a test tube. Born on the bloody fields of war. Bred to be the ultimate war machine. He's just been betrayed by his creators.
Now they'll realise first hand how good a job they did...
'War Machine' was intended as a reimagining of 2000AD's long-standing character Rogue Trooper, and this story was originally released in 1993, writted by Dave Gibbons and illustrated by Will Simpson.
Provisionally the story follows an almost identical path as that of the original Rogue Trooper, and stars a genetic infantryman (or 'G.I' as they are referred to), produced as a controllable weapon of war and equipped with bleeding-edge weapons and equipment, then sent off to a distant warzone where he suffers a betrayal...
The main character 'Friday', along with 99 other Genetic Infantrymen are sent to a distant warzone by their mysterious and unseen commander 'Highside' in order to battle for a hill with no name that is simply designated as 'Hill 392'. Once they capture their objective at great loss, they are then required to hold it at all cost against waves of increasingly dangerous foes, including human soldiers, machines, and eventually also stronger, more vicious versions of themselves.
The battle is long and bloody, they receive no contact or assistance from Highside despite their repeated pleas, and it leaves Friday as the only survivor surrounded by the corpses of his friends and allies and with no idea about what he was fighting for and whether it was worth it.
The order is then given to abandon the hill they had fought so hard to keep, and Friday appalled by the fruitless waste of life makes it his mission to track down Highside, seek answers and make him pay. What follows is a journey through a wasted warzone in which Friday experiences the best, but more often the worst of what war has to offer.
The book is a clear an effective analogy for conflicts such as the Vietnam War, where soldiers often fought for nameless patches of land and died in their hundreds to complete their objectives, only to be immediately ordered to abandon their prize with no resistance, at which point it would immediately be recaptured by the enemy - with the only statistic of importance usually being that of the enemy bodycount.
Its as much an indictment of the arms industry, with good soldiers lives being spent to field test equipment intended to fill the coffers of private companies, and the failiures of that equipment being terribly magnified by the horror of war.
Its entirely possibly to enjoy this story as nothing more than an exciting tale of battle, as I did when I first read it 20 years ago as a teenager, but in truth its a very complex story which explores some very heavy issues about brotherhood, honour, sacrifice, greed, the military industrial complex, and the necessity (or lack thereof) of war itself.
I never understood all those years ago that the title of 'War Machine' did not so much refer to the main character of Friday, but more to the actual wheels, cogs and processes of war, the systems that produce the soldiers who fight them, the politicians who justify them, and the factories that produce the weapons with which they are fought.
Its a brilliant story on many levels, and Simpsons hand painted art is absolutely beautiful (the quality of the cover art here in no war represents the sky-high standard of the internal art by the way).
The Rogue Trooper series is about as recognisable, to fans of the 2000AD universe at least, as Judge Dredd, so why would anyone think of changing it? Well, that is exactly what I was amazed to discover they had done one christmas when I was gifted the Rogue Trooper annual for that year.
This annual contained comparisons between the old and new Rogue trooper, explaining why the writers and artists felt a "gritty reboot" (to use the internet cliche) was necessary, what their influences were, old and "new", ie Friday, story lines, a long essay about "future war" and an illustrated story which wasnt a comic strip.
At the time I had, after reading the initial story, thought that perhaps I just had not read a Rogue strip in a long time and the story had moved on but then I read about the reboot and was pretty worried. This was 2000AD and not Marvel or DC, characters if they died or changed did not make a come back, there wasnt a multiverse, storylines were pretty canonical and I imagined the original Rogue was gone, soon to be forgotten. I need not have worried because it was the original Rogue that lasted in the minds of readers, console games were released featuring the original Rogue trooper, bio chips and all etc.
This volume contains the origin story of Friday, the one time "new" Rogue Trooper, a black and white one of tale and one more one of tale in full colour. There is some thematic continuity from the earlier Rogue Trooper storyline, Rogue is now named Friday but he is a genetically engineered soldier, the last of his kind, a lone survivor who has kit, a helmet, rifle and backpack, gleaned from his dying comrades and he is seeking, at least initially, to avenge their loss. It is an anti-war war comic like the earlier incarnation, possibly even more sophisticatedly so but it also explores humanity too(the "flaw" which turns out to be a strength).
The black and white one off is a great tale I recall from the annual, about soldiers stranded after the war is over, there is a genetically engineered monster but it is really a foil to the story's real point. The colour strip is a short affair Rogue is involuntarily pitted against another in a duel to the death by slaver psychic mutants.
I gave this five stars because I think it would please anyone who was familiar with the Friday "detour" or totally new to the idea, the writing is good and the art is good too. Although there were a number of great stories in the annual I mentioned which were not included here and I do not know why, one featuring savangers louring unsuspecting ships in with decoys, Rogue could kill them but turns their attention to pirates hot on his trail. In another writers describe how Friday experiences a weaponised acid rain as being like hot match sticks on his skin. Finally he seeks to defend a seemingly defenseless circus troop from someone murderously pursuing him who apprently aims to exploit them but who turns out to be their main course at a cannibalistic religious ritual. I mention these because the Friday reboot allowed for some of the best post-apocalypse/future war story telling I read but its not here, the origin story is though and I wanted to read it and like the others it was top notch.
on 14 August 2013
I really like Rogue Trooper. I have only read the Volume 1 collection of the 1980s series but I fell in love with the character and his buddies (Gunner, Helm, Bagman) who kept him in line or sometimes tempted him, right from the start. This collection here is from the early 1990s and contains a re-imagining of the original Rogue Trooper origin story and two one-shot stories in that new world. This is a darker, more mature story than the original and certainly a more plausible and realistic plot. Because of that I certainly appreciate the quality of the storyline and first time readers of Rogue may well just love this version. Other readers may like the new Rogue and I have no problems with the story if it just wasn't my beloved Rogue Trooper. My biggest problem with accepting this re-imagining is the absence of Rogue's three biochip buddies. The humour is gone as well and while the original Rogue managed to be grim and dark, I just can't imagine this one ever being light-hearted as he is so tortured. It's hard for me to give a rating as the actual plot is very intense and believable, I liked it a lot; but I love the original character too much to like what has been done to him here. I think opinion will vary between fans, those who are more nostalgic, like me, and those who felt Rogue was campy, while first-time Rogue readers will enjoy this dark, grim corporate version of war.